The most literal meaning of revolution, however, is not forward motion, but a full cycle, another turn of the proverbial screw. And to some, the increasingly cozy relationship between the military world and the oil and gas industry appears to be just that: the next phase of a global campaign to drill and fight for oil—in order to, in no small part, power the effort to drill and fight for more oil.
In the years immediately after the war, returning GIs married in record-breaking numbers only to discover that the city’s available housing stock was borderline nonexistent, forcing many of them to live in crapulous overpriced living quarters that they could barely afford or, in the case of my own mother and father, to move in with their parents or in-laws, their home on earth reduced to a childhood bedroom, cramped common space, unasked-for personality clashes, and an unbearable lack of privacy.
And then came the first baby…
And so, when Parkside finally opened in ’51, those whose applications had been accepted grabbed the kid and took off running as if they were escaping from behind the Iron Curtain.
For these working-class children raised in tenements and aging apartment buildings, Parkside, with its relatively roomy two-bedroom affordables, its landscaped gardens and playgrounds and communal benches, wasn’t only a new beginning, it was a first beginning, and mingled with the tang of fresh paint was an air of optimism, of gratitude.
They were on their way.
They could finally breathe.
They could finally concentrate.
In the vast cultural, economic, and political space of America, there is, on the one hand, the government, and on the other there is what governs us. There’s a lot of room between the strictures of law and the practicalities of daily life—a space occupied by family, bureaucrats, preachers, landlords, and doctors, by love, by money, or that thing you feel in the absence of money, by corporations, even by art. We can’t speak of empires today in the way that Edward Gibbon might. Even the new Star Wars is post-imperial. There is no monolith, no American Empire that provides all the rules, sets all the standards—what we have instead is only America, messy pastiche. So what could we rightly call a modern empire? A business, or a church, if it’s considerably big, or a natural resource, with its attendant corporate and environmental concerns? They can be powerful enough, and more than willing enough to wield that power. But this raises another question: Should we even give them that moniker? To crown a Wall Street tycoon or Silicon Valley technocrat an emperor might imbue them with power they don’t otherwise have. An exercise in rhetoric, maybe—but then again, how we define something influences how we see it, and, in turn, how we behave toward it.
In this special issue of Guernica, the third of four made possible through your generous support of our Kickstarter campaign, we offer a few panels from this sprawling imperial mosaic—its victims and beneficiaries, the merciful and the mercenary. You won’t find these empires on a map, tucked as they are behind the names of can’t-say-I’ve-been-there towns. Be on the lookout instead for an office complex, someplace awash in the soothing hum of data centers and microwave transmitters. Their borders are the perimeter of the boardroom table, the cut of a sharp suit. If, that is, you decide they exist at all.
In this issue: features from Richard Price, Laura Gottesdiener, Christopher Leonard, Jessica Machado, Ed Winstead, and the Guernica staff; interviews with Shannon Brownlee and Dr. Vikas Saini, Ben Wizner, and Anthony Pinn; an interview with artist Ben Davis; new fiction from Karen E. Bender and Constance Squires; and poetry from Danniel Schoonebeek and Rachel Richardson. We hope you enjoy the read.
Imagine if your dramas and trivializations were shaped and packaged into forty-two-minute episodes, because your mom and your sisters signed you up for all this seven years ago, when you were still in college. In an episode that ran in March, in a moment that Rob seemed to think would be private—he at a doctor’s office with his mom to get some of his tattoos removed to represent “a whole new beginning”—Kim shows up, dozens and dozens of paparazzi flashes in tow. She knocks on the door to the office. “It’s me,” Kim says. They crack the door open for her, and we hear Rob mumble, “I don’t want to film with my shirt off.” They shut the door to the camera crew, but the audio is still on. “What’s wrong, Rob?” Kris prods. “I’m sad,” he says, whimpering. “I don’t even want to sit down because of how fat I am.” It’s a heart-sinking moment, a naked instance of Rob’s shame—with himself, with what he believes people are judging every week when they watch the show or when they see a photo of him in In Touch.
Or is it? Just seconds before that, Kris says Rob has been drugged up for the tattoo removal. He’s vulnerable not just because he’s exposed his self esteem, but because producers have milked his shitty feelings about himself for a moment when he’s not in his right state of mind.
the puzzle box, by Zimri Yaseen
Brought to you by the Guernica/PEN Flash Series
my father never spoke.
a stroke had left him speechless before my birth. it is not right to say he never did anything, but he never did any thing people do on purpose to live.
she told me that at one i reached out and struck his closed right hand with my fat unsteady palm, and like a giant clam taking a deep sea breath, i imagine, his fingers slowly unfurled. then i would slap at his dry palm and the fingers would close, slowly. we played this game for hours when i was learning how to stand. closed. opened. when the hand was opened i had succeeded. when the hand was closed i would begin again.
she said that by the time i could walk he had taught me even and odd numbers. first 2 to open and 1 to close, then 4 to open but 3 to close, then 2 or 4 & 1 or 3, and so on, until i began to feel the intricate mechanism of my puzzle box father extending deep into the night sky inside us.
my first memories of my father were modular arithmetic and the theory of prime numbers.
after school i ran riot with my friends. we ran and made loud sounds and broke small things. we were like the atoms in a bomb, colliding, combining, and releasing sound and fury. i could not tell my father about this for 2 years. in a group of 6 we were smaller groups forming and dissolving. even in pairs each one of us could perform 4 crude kinds of action, or we could form threesomes and foursomes, and because these were but the crudest descriptions, each interaction only showed its result as a blur of probability. besides, we were children, and changing week by week if not day by day.
he was too, but racing like a second hand i could not perceive his minute hand motion. she was an hour hand. to speak with her he did not use the soft machine he’d built for me. they would look at each other. i could not understand it.
in high school we got computers and i began to build my father inside of one. it would output 0 when his hand was closed and _ when it would be open. when i told them, they looked at me and i noticed their eyes were more wet than regular eyes. i could see parts of my father were shrinking, like his arms and the sides of his head. the top parts were shrinking, and sagging into his middle, and his bottom parts had begun to swell too.
he didn’t have to say much anymore. he could imply. there was the equation, and the proof, and there was a little machine we could build and imagine it repeating itself on and on very fast to converge on the smooth truth of an equation. a little machine could do that. a big machine could make a little machine. we could build a night sky.
computers have more memory now, and i am still building him. but i am almost finished.
Originally published at Guernica.
My professors introduced art to me as something that could transform people’s lives. I was interested in that because I always felt like there was a need for people to speak about the kinds of conditions in which I grew up. There were things that nobody really talked about. In fact, most people hid from them with shame. I was interested in the question, How do you give a voice to the people who are not represented?
When I went downstairs this morning and found Cookie missing, I knew that official emergency procedure called for me to phone all the information in to the Bureau of Disappearances. At the prompting of the prerecorded voice, I would enter my social security number and zip code. I would press “2” to report the sudden absence of an animal, “3” for “domestic animal,” and then at the sound of the tone I would speak the word “cat” clearly and audibly into the telephone receiver. The woman’s voice would then give a short parametric definition of a cat, and if this definition matched my missing item, I could press the pound sign to record a fifteen-second description. A three-note melody would let me know that my claim had been filed, and then that lovely prerecorded voice would read out my assigned case number, along with some instructions on how to update or cancel my claim.
Instead, I picked up the phone and pushed your number into it. I was always telling you about problems you couldn’t fix, as though multiplying badness could dilute it.
“Cookie’s gone,” I said, and waited for your response.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
“Have you phoned it in?” you asked. Your voice was casual, like it was someone else’s pet entirely, a pet from a faraway land owned by people we’d never meet.
“I didn’t,” I said. “I’m kind of depressed,” I added. I was often depressed, but now we all had better reasons to be.
“I’m sorry,” you said back.
“Cookie loved to chew on wires,” I said.
“I know,” you said. You didn’t say you wished you could be here. I didn’t say it either.
Feature image by Dana Schutz, Singed Picnic, 2008. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Petzel, New York.
My Father Gave the Neighbors
By Erez Bitton, translated from the Hebrew by Tsipi Keller
On the wounded night
my father gave the neighbors
a wine feast and a variety of pastries
while my mother
unraveled both her eyes to the ravens.
And on tiptoe the neighborhood wives
come and go, lighting candles
to Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes
and to Rabbi Shimon bar-Yochai.
toss and turn all night
soliciting my mother’s eyes
to calm my father.
And the women continue
to come and go
to revive me
with nard and turmeric
until morning arrives
sealing the time
Originally published at Guernica.
There are three facts, three stories I inherited from my family that keep me up at night: one, my father met my mother in a whorehouse along the tourist belt. Two, my aunt, also a prostitute, brought us to America by marrying her US sailor client. Three, my father lies. He recounts these stories to me, over and over, and they change each time.
I don’t know if they’re rumors or if they’re true. Somewhere among them, there’s the reason why my mother left. There’s the truth of how they met, fell in love, and had us, my sister and me. It’s a story he won’t say. A story he won’t admit. A story I’ve run away from. Growing up, I didn’t have time to think about why my mother wasn’t there. I had to take care of my father. My até. My lola. But in that midst of taking care of everyone, I left.
It’s a long story. I paid my way through college. My father pulled out credit cards in my name, with my social security number, and I was in a mountain of debt before twenty-one. So I eloped. With my high school sweetheart who enlisted into the Navy. An encircling of my aunt’s story—I couldn’t help it. On some days, on bad ones, I think of myself as a poor whore who married for money. A whore who left her family. It’s what started my insomnia, the dreams. They’ve returned from my childhood.
Feature image by Eileen Quinlan, Smoke and mirrors (red), 2005. Chromogenic print.
“Pastoral scene / Of the gallant South / Them big bulging eyes / And the twisted mouth…”
—Nina Simone, “Strange Fruit”
“I see the blood on the leaves. I see the blood on the leaves. I see the blood on the leaves.”
—Kanye West/Yeezus, “New Slaves”